First of all, let me put my cards on the table. I am a Chartered Librarian. I qualified in 1990 and gained my Charter in 1992. My study took the form of an MA in English Language from Glasgow University and a post-graduate Diploma in Librarianship from what was then Robert Gordon’s Institute of Technology in Aberdeen. That was the way the profession was moving then although there were still plenty of under-graduate courses in Librarianship. In Scotland, you could study at RGIT, which was considered to be fairly traditional, or at Strathclyde University, which was under threat of losing its accreditation from the Library Association because it had moved so far from the generally understood notion of librarianship. I applied to both (as well as to some English and Welsh places) and was turned down by Strathclyde. Their stated reason was that as I wanted to work in public libraries their course was too modern for me!

Author Vivian French prepares to present the prizes for Made in Scotland, Moray Libraries’ reading challenge

Now on to Molly. I first read the book as a teenager, a regular and frequent library user. I had already decided that I wanted to be a librarian and I was friendly with one of the librarians in a nearby town. So I had a pretty good understanding of public libraries. I remember being bemused by the fact that everybody seemed to be against Molly becoming a librarian because, variously, she was too clever, the work was too boring and librarians were total drabs! Stereotypes anyone? Her headmistress suggests a compromise of a classics degree and a diploma of librarianship but Molly is determined to train the normal way: a job as a trainee in a library before taking the Entrance Exam of the Library Association followed by a year at Library School where she’ll take the Registration Exams.

Look familiar to anyone?

Molly Hilton: Library Assistant covers that first year. The sequel, Molly Qualifies as a Librarian, sees her at Library School. There’s a lot of information about the public library system crammed into the first few chapters and then we’re off with Molly to the nearby town of Benton where she is to begin her training. There she and we are instructed in shelving books, the Dewey Decimal Classification system and the funny little ways of the public. And it’s here that Bertha Lonsdale makes the point that libraries are for people and that includes children.

Books even for children

Molly enjoys her time at Benton and is sad to be moved to the County HQ. She learns all that needs to be done behind the scenes to keep a library operating but, even by this time, she knows that she wants to work with the public. So it’s with mixed feelings that she’s transferred again, this time to a new Regional HQ which is about to open in her home town of Tuncroft. She’s glad to be back home and happy to be working for Miss Penny but she still misses the borrowers. However, she is able to go out on the Mobile Library a couple of times and help out in the branch at busy times so things could be worse.

Trondheim Library, Norway

And then it’s time for Molly to think about the Entrance Exam and where she might go to study after that. We discover that she can apply for a leave of absence for a year and will get her job back at the end of it. Ah, those were the days! And we also hear that she can’t become an Associate of the Library Association (that is an ALA, a Chartered Member) until she’s twenty three. No reason given. While Molly is waiting for the result of her exam, there is much excitement when the BBC comes to make a radio programme about library services. And then finally, Molly hears that she’s passed the exam and that there’s an unexpected place available at the library school of her choice starting in September – the next month. We leave her approaching it.

State Library, Melbourne

Obviously, I’m predisposed to like this book. But I really think it is one of the better career novels. Molly and her friends and colleagues are proper people, the dialogue is good and there’s a lightness to it all – even the inevitable technical information is delivered in manageable chunks. And although the book was published in 1954, the principles of a public library service haven’t changed that much even though the execution is wildly different. Molly’s training is different to my own but my previous boss trained in the same way as Molly and, incidentally, was a superb example of how good a training it could be. So this high note seems to be a good place to leave my little series on career novels.

Spirit of Moray Book Festival, Elgin


  1. This sounds like a much more realistic approach than Nancy Runs the Bookmobile which is the only YA I remember about the library field. I am in my third semester of a graduate library degree and would not be doing it if it weren’t available online (1/3 the cost of the local in-person university). However, you miss a lot by not being around real practitioners.

    1. I’m guessing Nancy is American or Canadian? I think Molly is pretty realistic. It was written by a librarian so it ought to be! The downside to an academic approach to librarianship is that you don’t see the policy and procedures in action with the user group. It’s one of the issues for those teaching Librarianship. The post-graduate class at Robert Gordon’s visits Elgin Library, where I worked, for a day and a number of them did a four week work experience block with us.

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